THE NEW POSTMASTER
Ive been wrong before. Oh, heck, if Im being real honest, Ive been wrong a lot. But I aint never been so wrong as I was about Emma Walker. When she first came to town, I thought she was the worst piece of bad luck Id had since falling in the outhouse on my birthday. I tell you, things were fine in Moundville before Emma got here, least I thought they were. Guess the truth is, youll never know how wrong I was till Im done telling and explainingso Id better just get on with the story.
My real name is Harry Otis Sims, but everybody calls me Dit. See, when I was little, I used to roll a hoop down Main Street, beating it with a stick as I ran along. One day, two older boys tried to steal my hoop. I hit them with my stick and told them, Dit away. They laughed. You talk like a baby. Dit, dit, dit. The name stuck.
There are ten children in our family: Della, Ollie, Ulman, Elman, Raymond, me, Earl, Pearl, Robert and Lois. Thats just too many kids. There are never leftovers at supper, and you never get new clothes. We dont even get to go to the store for shoes: Mama just keeps them all in a big old barrel. When the pair youre wearing gets too tight, you throw yours in and pick out another one. With so many kids, sometimes I think my pa dont even know my name, since its always, Della, Ollie, Ulman, Elman, Raymond, uh, I mean Dit.
We all live in a big old house that Pa built himself right off Main Street in Moundville, Alabama. Most of the people in Moundville are farmers like my pa. Just about everything grows well in our rich, dark soil, but especially corn and cotton. Before I even had my nickname, Pa taught me how to count by showing me the number of ears of corn to feed the mule.
Most evenings my whole family, and just about everybody in town, gathers in front of Mrs. Pooleys General Goods Store to wait for the train. Mrs. Pooley is the meanest old lady Ive ever met. She smokes, spits and has a temper shorter than a bulldogs tail. But her store has a wide, comfortable porch and a great view of the train depot, just across the street. The evening Emma came, Mrs. Pooley sat in her usual rocker, smoking a pipe with Uncle Wiggens.
Uncle Wiggens aint really my uncle, everyone just calls him that. Hes over eighty and fought in the War Between the States. He only has one leg and one hero, General Robert E. Lee. Uncle Wiggens manages to work Lees name into pretty much any old conversation. You might say, My, its cold today, and hed reply, You think this is cold? General Lee said it didnt even qualify as chill till your breath froze on your nose and made a little icicle. He had about five different stories of how he lost his leg, every one of them entertaining.
That night I was listening to the version that involved him running five Yankees into a bears den as I wound a ball of twine into a baseball. Course if Id had the money, I could have bought a new ball at Mrs. Pooleys store, but if you wind twine real careful, its almost as good as a real ball.
The new postmaster was coming to town, and the grown-ups were as wound up as the kids on Christmas. The postmaster was in charge of sorting and delivering the mail, but he also sent and received telegrams. This meant he knew any good gossip long before anybody else. The last postmaster had been a lazy good-for-nothing: everyone had gotten the wrong mail two days late. He and his family had finally skipped town for refusing to pay their debts at Mrs. Pooleys store.
I was excited too. The new postmaster, Mr. Walker, was supposed to have a boy who was twelve, just like me. I sure hoped he liked to play baseball. It was June 1917, and my best friend, Chip, had just left to spend the summer with his grandma in Selma.
Excerpted from The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had by Kristin Levine. Copyright © 2009 by Kristin Levine. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
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